Thu, Jun 16, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Chinese ship ‘shadowing’ US naval drill in Pacific

Reuters, OKINAWA, Japan

An F-18 approaches to the USS John C. Stennis during a joint military exercise between the US, Japan and India off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, yesterday.

Photo: AP

A Chinese observation ship shadowed aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis in the Western Pacific yesterday, the carrier’s commander said, as it joined warships from Japan and India for drills close to waters Beijing considers its backyard.

The show of US naval power comes as Japan and the US worry that China is extending its influence into the Western Pacific with submarines and surface vessels as it pushes territorial claims in the neighboring South China Sea, expanding and building on islands.

China has been angered by what it views as provocative US military patrols close to the islands. The US says the patrols are to protect freedom of navigation.

Tokyo yesterday said a separate Chinese navy observation ship entered its territorial waters south of Kyushu island. China said it was acting within the law and following the principle of freedom of navigation.

“There is a Chinese vessel about seven to 10 miles [11 to 16km] away,” Captain Gregory Huffman, commander of the Stennis, told reporters aboard the carrier after it recovered its F-18 jets taking part in the exercise. The Chinese ship had followed the US vessel from the South China Sea, he added.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) said he was unaware of the situation.

Beijing views access to the Pacific as vital, both as a supply line to the rest of the world’s oceans and for the projection of its naval power.

The Stennis joined nine other naval ships, including a Japanese helicopter carrier and Indian frigates, in seas off the Okinawan island chain. Sub-hunting patrol planes launched from bases in Japan are also participating in the joint annual exercise dubbed “Malabar.”

The Stennis is to sail apart from the other ships, acting as a “decoy” to draw the Chinese away from the eight-day naval exercise, a Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force officer said, declining to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Blocking China’s unfettered access to the Western Pacific are the 200 islands stretching from Japan’s main islands through the East China Sea to within 100km of Taiwan. Japan is fortifying those islands with radar stations and anti-ship missile batteries.

By joining the drill, Japan is deepening alliances it hopes will help counter growing Chinese power.

For India, the gathering is a chance to put on a show of force close to China’s eastern seaboard and signal its displeasure at increased Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean.

India sent its naval contingent of four ships on a tour through the South China Sea with stops in the Philippines and Vietnam on their way to the exercise.

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines have competing claims.

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